2015 – Summer/Fall time Part 2

OCTOBER

BOA CHICAGO MARATHON
After learning the hard way from the 2014 NYC Marathon that putting all your eggs in one basket can be risky and somewhat disappointing – especially when external factors like weather, etc. impact the event – for 2015 I planned on having a major marathon combo at my disposal to make sure I could attempt my best effort at least at one of two.
Last spring, in fact, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon an the NYC Marathon again.
The build up to Chicago was described already here, and the final 10 days leading up to the race were particularly sweet.

First I hit a great couple of workouts, a solid 8 mile tempo run in Norwalk followed by a strong endurance run the next day, and then – as usual – I tried to sabotage myself volunteering at the Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon a week before the race. I would have loved to run the Cat’s tail, first because RD Charlie got me involved when he was planning the race and he surely arranges for ultra tough courses and well rewarding finish line parties, second because it is in the Catskills, third because Mountain Peak Fitness and Red Newt were heavily supporting the event (one of the races of the RNT calendar) and I could catch up with some teammates, and lastly because I had the chance to camp with Michelle for one night after the race thanks to Elizabeth’s support providing us with the equipment to do so.

The volunteering part was not too demanding, even if done in not so perfect conditions: hiking to Slide Mt and Cornell Mt from the aid station under a persistent constant rain required me and Michelle approx. 5 1/2 hrs for a total of 13-14 miles. Next day after a good breakfast at Phoenicia Diner Michelle and I spent a little bit of time in Woodstock to get the final workout in pre Chicago: an intense 3x2miles repetition with a good amount of uphill running put me in a good place mentally for the marathon.

Fast forward a few days, and here we are: Michelle and I landed in Chicago, resting in the hotel room, hitting the local Native Food join downtown basically for every meal and trying to inspect small sections of the course near the start line.

The day before the race I had the opportunity to meet Antony Scott, another runner from the City who made the trip to attempt a PR on the fast course of the wind city. We did an easy run together with just a few strides at the end to move the legs and stimulate the appetite. Antony told me his troubled months prior to the race, the limited amount of miles he could get in due to injuries, and the surprising performances that sometimes happened with his limited training regiment. We also took a picture together, and I still remember now how I was feeling so sleepy that morning. When they say a picture is worth 1,000 words…well…no comment…

Wake up Carlo

Wake up Carlo

After lunch and a relaxing afternoon spent in the hotel bedroom sleeping and resting, in the evening Michelle and I walked across the street and hit Vapiano for some pasta. The place was crowded, but we still managed to order and eat in a reasonable amount of time.
Back in the hotel I began feeling a little nervous, as it should be the night before an event you prepare for a long time.
I managed to waste some time massaging the Achilles, then I looked at past results, how other runners in the previous years managed to cover the course and the splits they had at the 5k intermediate checkpoints.
I tried to workout a chart with my predicted splits considering I would have run conservatively the first 15-20 miles, and I would have used some extra energy especially in the last bump of the course at mile 26. (Sebastien, who set his PR in Chicago, warned me about a little uphill with just 1/4 mile to go, so I checked it out the days before the race and realized that despite the innocent easy incline, the tricky bridge on Roosevelt Rd can make you loose quite a few seconds if unprepared for it).
Then, while Michelle was shopping for some bread, water and breakfast items, I prepared my Bolts for the race, as usual neatly packed in small bags that I could easily insert inside the arm-warmers or a little fuel belt.
On TV Gran Torino was broadcasted and that movie kept us in front of the screen for a while, just in time to feel tired and ready to snooze.

The morning of the race we got up really early and walked towards Millennium Park way early, anticipating the usual big chaos you can expect for a huge event like this. Clearly I was biased by the NYCM experiences since Chicago offered me the most pleasant pre race experience I could have possibly imagined.
I was there early, checked my drop bag for the finish line in no time, walked towards the corral and did some strides before entering it, assuming I would have spent the next 90 minutes standing in a crowded pool of people pushing, elbowing, peeing around, well…you get it…again…NYCM style.

None of that: I found a porta potty that was ready to be used without issues, I took care of business, found Antony warming up, entered the corral and found it surprisingly empty, with a small grass area runners used to lay down and stretch before the start. I wish NYRR could learn some of this from BoA Chicago M.

The pros and elites were announced and ran to the area in front of us from the right side; this time I got the chance to even see these semi-gods just a few feet away. When the race was about to take off, we were no more that 3-4 feet apart. Incredible.

The race started fast and due to some GPS issues under the tunnel and around city blocks for the first few miles, I could not check well the pace on my watch. Also the pack was still full of “jumpers” (those usual suspects/hero wannabes that take off at 5 min/mile and end up the race with a 9 min/mile or more last mile) and navigating through the twisty turns of the course was not an easy feat, especially when you try to cut the tangents and negotiate a few inches of space with raised elbows around you.

At this point I realized the work I did the night before checking the 5k splits was going to pay off. Ideally I planned on hitting 18:30 at each checkpoint to keep the math simple to remember, but ideally I would have preferred to go faster.

beginning

Early miles in the pack

The first 10k went by quickly, trading spots with other runners, and keeping myself as covered as I could trailing behind others. I stayed focused on my mission and despite feeling the pace was not taking a toll on me, I did not increase the effort but rather paid attention to eating and drinking regularly. Just after the 6 mile mark I felt some pain in the belly and began to feel nervous that once again a big event was going to be compromise by stomach or intestine problems.
I relaxed a little bit and ran an 18:36 3rd 5k (from 10k to 15k) with some headwind hitting the little group we formed. A couple of runners lead our group and were laboring heavily to break through sudden gusts. It was helpful to find someone else working for you.

Just after mile mark 8, I realized my gps watch was off from the official markers and began trusting the 18:30 avg splits even more, instead of relying on the avg pace displayed on the watch. The second surprise came when fellow runner Mac Schneider showed up unexpectedly.

Mac ran with me the first 18 miles of the 2014 NYC marathon and finished that race in an incredible 2:36 despite the constant headwinds we faced. He dropped me on 1st ave when I stopped for my bathroom break, but I realized from the half point I could not keep up with him, cause he was moving too well.

Seeing Mac again brought up some bad memories and I started feeling that bad luck was going to hit me again. So instead of taking the initiative for the group, I exchanged a few words with him and then remained covered among the others, helping out with pacing duties only for short periods.

with Mac 4

When Mac comes by, you don’t want to miss his train

with Mac 5

Holding onto Mac’s lead

Mac was not particularly worried about the pace either at this point so he joined forces with the little group of 6-7 that formed along the way back down into downtown Chicago.

The good thing is that for a mile or two I got distracted from my little stomach problem and suddenly it disappeared.

While crossing the bridge to downtown at around mile 12 the group started disintegrating: maybe the support of the crowd made us increase the pace (not according to the 5k split at this point), maybe some runners just fell apart, but as we crossed the bridge Mac and I basically found ourselves a little more alone than 5 minutes earlier.

with Mac 1

Heading south back into the city and looking around for Michelle waiting for me at 20k

with Mac 2

with Mac 3

Mac is looking around, I am wondering where everyone else went

We both looked at each other when we crossed the half way point and a runner went by at incredible speed leaving us speechless. I remember he was wearing a pink singlet, and after wishing him good luck, Mac and I kept plugging along at our pace.

The half marathon time was 1:18:04. A little too slow that what I felt comfortable with, since I usually tend to gain some seconds in the first half and eventually lose them in the second part. With a sub 2:36 goal, now I was all set to race, and I had a partner in crime with me: Mac.

At this point Mac took the lead and pushed hard for the next 10k. We hit some 5:59 and 5:57 splits and despite the pace was basically the same than before, I was producing more effort. I tried to help Mac a few times leading him, but he was more brilliant than me at this point.

I kept focusing on the final 10k, the fact that I needed to make sure I had enough energy to run them well, maybe alone. In the meanwhile we were picking up runners slowing down left and right.

group fell apart - with Mac

with Mac’s lead we picked and dropped another duo

Just after mile 20 on Halsted Street I started to feel a bit crappy. The discomfort was coming out, and generally this is the moment the distance takes you down. I was planning on increasing the effort only after mile 21, even if in pain, but now I was a little skeptical.

Two runners – I remember one of them being particularly tall – came by just before mile 21 and gapped us by 15-20 meters in just a minute. I could not understand if it was me falling off the pace or them just having a great day. A quick glimpse to the watch and I saw we were at 6 min/mile even. that was not great, since I wanted to pick up that little deficit from the first half, and instead I was falling behind a little more.

Mac pushed and began closing the gap; I lost a few meters and thoughts of another bad outcome clouded instantly my head; my reaction was a small surge, that desire and willingness to suffer a bit more to hang onto someone figure floating in front of you.
It wasn’t painful to switch gears, it was actually rewarding and satisfying. I felt stronger and then, just as we turned right before the 35k mark, I found myself running alone. I picked a different trajectory than the rest of the group, stayed closer to the inside, ran alone for a quarter of a mile and found myself in my familiar conditions.

I’ve spent months and months running 20, 30, 45 and even 60 minutes repetitions solo. I have embraced the solitude and quietness of those long moments spent listening to my lungs breathing and my mind thinking, isolating myself from the world; this was my ideal scenario. With just about 7-8k to finish I found my ideal running set up.

Is it my time, yet?

Is it my time, yet?

I knew I was a bit behind, not sure how much, but all I could do was running as fast as I could towards that last hill that Sebastien warned me about.
“Was I ready to do it all alone?” I remember thinking while checking the time and distance at the 35k mark.

Approaching 35k

Approaching 35k

The final part: solo from here on

The final part: solo from here on

going alone 4

just after 35k, my mind was made up

 

going alone 3

And still alone, after mile 22. more relaxed and ready

After mile 23 I headed north on Michigan Ave shooting straight to mile 26. No turns, no obstacles just a flat road. The headwind now became tail wind. The split from 35 to 40k became faster with a 5:56 average and now my head was too clouded to do the math and figure out if I was ahead or behind the 2:36 projection.
I kept doing what I was doing, suffering internally, but picking up runners around me.

Final 5k effort

Final 5k effort

going alone 5

It wasn’t that easy, I promise

going alone 6

going alone 7

going alone 8

Lonely Effort 2

Lonely Effort

Funny thing with about 1.5k to go I saw the runner with the pink shirt that blasted through the half marathon mark. He was now barely jogging; this gave me some selfish satisfaction and pushed me even further to go faster. As I approached the right turn for the final hill I saw Michelle encouraging me with all her voice just behind the fence.
I laid out everything I could in that uphill, I sprinted towards the finish line, ready to dive, because I did not know how many more times I have the chance to break 2:36.

Sprinting to the Finish Line

Sprinting to the Finish Line

Crossing the Line...and it's over

Crossing the Line…and it’s over

Caught off guard

Caught off guard

Cooling Down

Cooling Down

Happy after finishing

Happy after finishing

Finish Line Satisfied 2

Satisfied face

Satisfied face

 

WATERGAP 50k

With a week of recovery post Chicago, and not really felling too springy with my legs I took on the challenge or running my third Red Newt Race with MPF-RNR Team: the Watergap 50k.

I was not super happy of getting into a race so quickly, but for once the course was not that challenging with just a hill at the beginning and a couple of little inclines at the end. It was also a good chance to catch up with Elizabeth and Ian Golden who have relentlessly worked hard for the team all year long.

The goal was to finish on the podium possibly running under 4hrs. The first few miles – like the rest of the day – were very enjoyable. I got to spend some time with Silas and Justin chatting and enjoying finally being able to run fairly smoothly after a week of tired legs.

As the miles went by the effort increased and Silas and I hit several miles on the 6:30 opening a gap on Justin who happened to have started just a little too fast than his ideal pace.

While I had no intention to race Silas, we pushed each other to keep the race honest till the finish line, when we just went on to complete the race as teammates.

Jason Friedman completed a masterpiece race, starting with a easy effort and coming back strong for the second part of the race. I had the chance to talk to him at the end, and his energy level was still high. A clear sign that he had margin to even do better.

Overall this was a very enjoyable day spent in the company of many people like Elizabeth, Jason, Silas, Ian, etc. that I would love to share more adventures, races, and parties with.

Read more about the race from Jason and Silas reports and enjoy a few photos of the race below. Big Thank You to Mountain Peak Fitness and Joe Azze for covering extensively the course

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Ready to go Start Line

Next one is November…another busy month of running non stop

 

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Cayuga 50 – US National Championship

Last year experience in Cayuga was simply amazing.

Even though the race did not go as planned, the overall weekend was pretty nice and I made a mental note to come back this year, to enjoy a flourishing town, spend a weekend away from the City, and compete in a spectacular yet demanding course against the finest runners in the US.

Last year race for me stopped after the first 25 miles, with a sore ankle that I wanted to treat properly before the LUT; however, Cayuga taught me several lessons about my body and its needs while running that stayed latent and undisclosed for a couple of months until the summer of 2013.
Both Cayuga and the LUT became my lowest running points last year, yet they were the most valuable experiences that added incredible value for the rest of the season and brought me to a wonderful experience in UROC and at the NYC marathon.
Probably the people that enlightened me most were Michelle and Fabio. Michelle suggested that something did not go right in my eating/drinking plans for the races. Fabio gave me a similar version when I described him what I did in Lavaredo, and he opened up the world of Dr Noakes.

I will not be thankful enough for Fabio’s recommendation to read the book. Dr Noakes’s Lore of running is probably the best (and biggest) publication about running and it transformed the way I try to connect with my body during a run both in training and in a race.
Sometimes I might take an approach about drinking and or eating that is a bit more extreme than Dr Noakes, especially during training, but the book is worth reading every page. With that said, I have not finished it, so a lot more to learn!

Back to Cayuga, the plan was to come to the race prepared and in good to use the evnet as a tune up for Manitou’s Revenge.
The rough patch I went through in April not only cut down the miles, but it kept me away from long runs leaving me with a not so solid conditions getting into the race.

The field of professional, elites, and local speedy gonzales from the Gorges was packed, and way deeper than last year, with everyone eager to crush it because the race was hosting the USTF 50 Mile National Championship.
The course changed slightly due to and inclement winter and a cold spring that did not allow to re-open certain sections of the stairs along the gorges, but race director Ian Golden did an outstanding job organizing an alternative course maintaining the spectacular views of the waterfalls and the keeping the course challenging through the woods.

During the week leading up to the race I made contact with Matt Flaherty, a great runner that I met for the very first time exactly here in Cayuga a year ago. He was so kind to make some time for me even when we met again in UROC and this time I asked him if we could run a few miles together on Saturday. I think I creeply told him that I would have tatooed his name on my chest, if we met for the run. LOL!

Friday evening we drove to Ithaca and we arrived to the little motel where we stayed in 2013, and we crashed into bed, after a 5 hours drive and a long week of work. Saturday morning we were up and ready early and drove to Treman St. Park where the race starts and where Matt told me to meet him.
When he showed up he had a little surprise for me: other two runners where part of the group: Chris Vargo and Brad Lombardi were staying in Matt’s cabin, so we all went out for a 4 mile jog/run to explore a little the course around the Lick Brook crossing and the base of the steep climb right after that.
It was a great pleasurable experience. Seeing how this tremendous runners prepare a race is incredible. Even more remarkable was enjoying their kindness, their humor and listening to their little stories while we were jogging. I knew I would have seen them at the start and finish line of the race only, but spending half an hour with them prior to the race was very unique. Even more gratifying was the fact that along the course I ran into them and they all said hi and smiled to me, even if they were pounding the ground and focusing on that task.

After the run Michelle and I went to the running company to pick up the Bib and here we ran into Kristina Marie Folcik, last year winner and another great person. She came in with hubby Ryan Welts and she was ready to attack the course. We waiting for the packet pick up to be set up completely and in the meantime also Michelle had the chance to meet Kristina.
It was great to see her and Ryan live every once in a while, because getting all the updates about their impressive running and their adventures on the trails via social media every weekend is nice…but seeing the real deal in person is something else. Ryan did not race, he was only coming to crew Kristina and train for Manitou’s, where I am sure he will get his revenge on the Fruitarian this year.

After bib pick up Michelle and I went for lunch at Moosewood like we did last year, and then went back to the running company to meet Stephen and Tiffany who came up from NY with a bunch of friends. We spent the afternoon at the Cinemapolis for a nice screening of Trails In Motion International Film Festival and then went back to the motel to relax for an hour or so.
The evening was quiet and we had mexican food with Stephen, Tiffany, Lucia and Scott. Michelle was worried I was not having enough food and she kept shoveling french fries, corn chips and salsa my way. Funny. A bunch of other people from the Trail Whip Ass group randomly showed up at the same restaurant and started taking pictures with us at the table. People around the restaurant were looking at us trying to figure out what was going on, but we did not care. During dinner Stephen and I exchanged a few thoughts about the race, the competition, and plans for next day. I told him that realistically with all the good players in the field I would feel accomplished getting into the top 30 finishers.
I enjoy a lot spending time with Stephen. It does not happen often that we meet at a race or for a training run, but when it happens I am happy like a kid because there is something nice to learn from him.

By 10pm after a quick visit to a local coop to buy some food for the next day, Michelle and I were dead in bed. Alarm went off as planned early morning and by approx 5 am we were parking the car and getting ready for the start.
I am not sure if it was the anxiety for running a 50 miler with only and medium/long run of 18 miles on the leg since February, or if it was the atmosphere of the event, but I could not stop going to the woods and get a pit stop. 3 visits before the start were a good sign that the belly was pretty empty, at least I thought so.

At 6 am sharp the race started and conscious of 2013 experiences I went out easy and relax for the first few miles. Runners were blazing by me, lighting up on fire the trail almost. Maybe somebody should be reminded that there is not prize for being at the front at mile 1 or 2, but only at mile 50 in this case.
I jogged the first climb towards Old Mill, and occasionally hiked the steeper portions.

Crowded Start...but here I am in the middle of the pack, trying not to get excited early on

Crowded Start…but here I am in the middle of the pack, trying not to get excited early on

Here again with sunglasses, checking out people around me

Here again with sunglasses, checking out people around me

I knew I had a lot to give in the tank, but mile 2 was way too early to press on the gas pedal. I thought I was in a decent position when near me Kristina was making her way through some runners that were already gasping for air after the initial effort.
At the aid station I stayed focused and not losing time or chainging the pace: often when people cheer and encourage runners, the natural reaction is to pick up the pace. I did not want to do this. I wanted to cruise at my speed without outside interferences.
However, I heard a clear “Hey Carlo” from the crowd, and after a few secs for my brain to process the sound, I looked back and say that Ryan Welts was there and spotted me among others. So proud to receive his acknoledgment!
The course started to descend towards the “Underpass” aid station and I picked up the pace just slightly, feeling comfortable and relaxed.

Upper Treman Park - going down the stairs required particular attention Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Upper Treman Park – going down the stairs required particular attention
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

The miles went by quickly and little by little I lined myself behind Magdalena and Katie O’Regan who were in the lead for the woman champ.

Water Crossings are always fun, and refreshing

Water Crossings are always fun, and refreshing

Ready to sink into the deep part

Ready to sink into the deep part

I particularly felt very very good along the steep climb after the Lick Brook crossing. I made up most of the gap from a small group of runners in front of me and gained some confidence that the day was turning into something good.
I figured it was a good chance to see how the pros (women) do it, given that Matt, Chris, Mike Owen, etc. were on another league. We sticked together all the way through Buttermilk Falls, even missed a turn and were called (luckly) by a volunteer (or a hicker) back in track and we entered the aid station together. On the way to Buttermilk we saw the lead pack coming back towards us. It was incredible to see how fast they were pushing through the trail. I had the fantasy that the pace might have been too quick for even some of them and they would have dropped later in the race, leaving some nice spots open for us slow midpackers. At the aid station I lost a few seconds getting an extra gel and drinking some sodas to make sure the sugar was going to help me climb the set of stairs that was waiting for us.
The ascent was good, fairly fast yet not too damaging, since we powerhiked or jogged comfortably. While looking at the waterfalls with the sun starting to hit on our backs and temperatures raising I imagined myself dipping into that refreshing stream. Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…didn’t have time for that.

Getting to Buttermilk aid station: lettin some pro/elites do the pace so I could learn the tricks

Getting to Buttermilk aid station: lettin some pro/elites do the pace so I could learn the tricks. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

This was not easy...a break was not allowed even downhill

This was not easy…a break was not allowed even downhill. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

Studying the situation in front

Studying the situation in front of me. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

Buttermilk 1st lap B

Yes, I am there. Look closely, just behind her vizor

Of course all shoutings and encouragement were for Magdalena at the aid station

Of course all shoutings and encouragement were for Magdalena at the aid station

Chasing Katie and Magda Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Chasing Katie and Magda
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

While following Magdalena and Katie I got a little annoyed by another runner who kept speeding up, passing me, passing Katie and Magdalena, and then dropping back a few hundred feet. I was not sure what this guy was up to, but thankfully he got out of sight after a few miles and we did not have to deal with his presence any more.
This little incident made me think about my interaction the lead woman: we did not talk during the entire journey, we only looked at each other, especially the other two were probably studying each other, while I was just following close. Was I distracting them? Was I interferening? I hope not.

I'm there...in the back, coming up hot

I’m there…in the back, coming up hot

Still keeping the first two women around to learn

Still keeping the first two women around to learn. Photo courtesy of Joe Viger

Yes, now I am getting up those stairs, can't wait my face seems to say

Yes, now I am getting up those stairs, can’t wait my face seems to say. Photo courtesy of Joe Viger

On the way to Underpass The three of us picked up the pace a little bit and in a few miles we closed the gap on two runners ahead. They were running and chatting quite a bit; they also tried to make conversation with Magda, and I think they might have known each other.

On the way back to the water crossing again. Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

On the way back to the water crossing again.
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Following close Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Following close
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Still fresh after 15-16 miles. Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Still fresh after 15-16 miles.
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

I was not in the mood to exchange many words at this point. Along the steep downhill before the aid station I found myself alone, with the other two dudes only a few seconds ahead while Katie and Magdalena holded back a little.
At this point I was not sure what to do. It was too early to push myself, yet people around me where fading after the initial efforts.
At the bottom of the descent the other two runners approached the creek crossing very carefully. I headed straight for the water and had the time to take a quick refreshing dip. At the aid station only one of them took off quickly with me. Looking back at the photos I think his name was Dave James. We stayed together for a couple of miles, and I started to feel the lack of preparation for the long distance. Certain patches were runnable uphills but I did not have the strength to push they way I wanted. I settled for a more quiet effort, and only along the Lucifer Steps I opened up a little gap on him.

From here on I felt ok until the turnaround point, even with a little mishappening that costed me a couple of minutes and some extra mileage: while running downhill towards the finish I missed a left turn while trying to avoid hikers on the trail and found myself a little lost. I had to run back uphill and pick up the trail again to make it to the half point. Coming down towards Old Shelter I also ran into the lead group and surprisingly saw that Matt and Chris were not in the lead anymore. However, they looked strong and fast. I only found out later that they went off course as well, and gave up the lead in favor of Michael Owen.

Still fairly fresh going toward the turnaround point at mile 25

Still fairly fresh going toward the turnaround point at mile 25

The race proceeded quietly for me for another 6-7 miles and while I tried to run conservatively I noticed that my intestine was feeling a litle weak. This seems to be a theme lately during races and also during my training. Could it be that I need to take more seriously core strengthening? Or was it the colder/iced water that I got from the aid station that was making my belly feel uneasy? About a mile before the Underpass aid station I ran into Michelle who cheered me up with her usual enthusiasm. I told her quickly about my belly issue and she told me to go for a pit stop. When I reached Underpass I did not lose any time and went straight for the porta potty. I lost about 3-4 minutes between the pitstop and the usual water/soda/gel break, and I thought I lost a spot or two.
I felt much better now, and I could now run without those sudden sharp cramps that I was experiencing in the last half hour I could focus on finishing the race. The legs were getting a little stiff but that is normal after more than 30 miles.
I reached again Buttermilk aid station, this time alone, and with my great surprise I saw Silas Carey getting ready to take off.

Silas is a great reference point for me. I do not know much about him, except the fact that at my first ever trail race in Bear Mountain in 2012 (a half marathon) he crushed everyone else, won the race and came back the following year to repeat himself.
This year I saw him in Bear M again where he tackled the 50k and finished in the podium (I forget if he was 2nd or 3rd overall).
This represented a significant experience: I was now side by side to the runner that claimed the first podium that I witnessed. Was he having a bad day or have I improved a little bit and got closer to these running studs?
Immediately my first thought was to retarget my race goals: I wanted to run harder and finish in front of him. This lasted for about 20 feet, because as soon as I approached the stairs cramps completely stopped me for another 2 minutes.
I could not stretch the hamstrings that the calves were cramping and pulsing, when stretching the quads the hamstrings were screaming in the back. It was a total breakdown. With 13 miles to go and probably one of the worst daily performances in front of the cameras of the photographers along the stairs, I had to calm down and focus on moving slowly and effortlessly to bring home the full 50 miles.

Upper Buttermilk Falls, cramps taking a toll on me Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Upper Buttermilk Falls, cramps taking a toll on me
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

I had to do some hiking and after 20 minutes of struggling I was finally able to lock into a comfortable pace running the flats and the downhill to Underpass. Silas was gone, I could not see him even in the long straight stretches near Sandbank Rd. Then all of a sudden just before the aid station I see two figures moving ahead of me: Silas and another runner were marching together. Not all hope was lost.

Second time around Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Second time around
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Getting close to Underpass Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Getting close to Underpass
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

We hit the aid station together, and I took off first trying to gain a little gap so I could take it a little easy for a mile or so.
Silas was not in the mood to lose a spot in a national championship, and he followed me closely, passed me after not even a quarter of a mile, and encouraged me tapping my butt and telling me “Let’s go, Buddy”.
I really wished I had the freshness to follow him and even make some conversation at this point. The good thing is that at least I gained a spot and now I had only 7 miles to finish.
I kept moving at all the time, but the Devils Steps put the hurt on me again: I planned on taking a few seconds to stretch before starting the climb, but as soon as I stopped, my legs went ballistic again. Cramps got all the muscles of my legs, hamstrings, calves, shins, quads. It was painful and funny at the same time.

After a few moments of panic I started climbing slowly the stairs, got offered some help from the volunteers and kindly declined. Slowly I made my way to the last aid station, got some cold water from the hose directly on my whole body head to toe and then took off. While turning around the switchbacks exiting the AS I took a glimpse back and saw Magdalena charging into the area. I was probably a minute and a half in front of her and at this point it was a matter of pride: I did not want to lose a spot.

This could open up a bigger discussion about being passed by women in a race, and how generally men feel about this, but I’ll discuss more in the future. The bottom line is that I do not fear being passed by a woman, two, three, or many. If they are better than me, then be it.
This time it was about not being passed by anyone in the last couple of miles of the race. After battling for 48 miles, why would you give up in the last 2?
There was not man, no woman and no animal that could take that spot from me. I stayed focused on running, making sure I was not getting lost again, and that I was paying attention to all the hikers on the course to avoid sudden stops and possibly cramps that could have made me lose more time.

Finally the trail opened up into the green grassy final quarter of a mile and the end was clearly visible; I was invaded by a feeling of joy and accomplishment. I saw Michelle screaming for me just a few meters before the finish line. I felt proud for both of us. We came to Ithaca together and we were going to make it home together after a fantastic weekend.

Last 50 meter (stupid) thought: pour the remaining water on my head as I cross the finish line: I win the competition for most idiotic finish of the race

Last 50 meter (stupid) thought: pour the remaining water on my head as I cross the finish line: I win the competition for most idiotic finish of the race

Completing an ultra is always a joy, but feeling decently competitive even with the lack of specific preparation is even a better reason to celebrate. Finding moments of internal quietness, where my conscious self and my inner self are working together and talking to each other, exploring each other and understanding what each one is made of is probably the main reason that fuels me to push my body and my mind in these events.
Finishing 15th overall in the US Championship would be considered by many a great accomplishment, and I am proud of myself for getting there; but what I walk away from Ithaca with is the ecstasy of engaging in the process of communication with myself and within myself.

Stay tuned for future photos updates on the this post when they will come available from race photographers